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Gulls and Terns (04/18)

Most local Birders are gull-watchers, it's proven to be the most entertainment that we are likely to get in the midlands during the winter months. The fact that Chasewater is such a nationally recognised 'Hot-spot' for gulls is another significant factor and has resulted in many local birders being far more aware of the intricacies of this sometimes difficult group. Clayhanger and Ryders Mere have a role in this, most significantly as a pre-roost site and an occasional refuge.
Gull species recorded

Kittewake - Risa tridactyla

The first record for the site of this exceptionally scarce pelagic species was at 07.13 on 12/02/13 when an adult specimen was picked up in flight over the Mere (G.C.) a second bird was found by the same observer on 15/05/13 during a strong run of migrants.
Black-Headed Gull - Larus ridibundus

This is a species that can now be encountered in any month of the year but is less frequently seen in the mid-summer period. Recently fledged juvenile specimens used to turn up in early August but since 2008 this species has bred on the islands of Ryders Mere, raising possibly 40+ young in 2011! The winter birds that occur are frequently supplemented by eastern European specimens.

Ringed birds occasionally turn up both alive (01/02/1998) and dead (01/08/1999). The latter bird carried ring number ES 48628 and had been ringed in Lincolnshire. Another bird carrying a Darvic-type ring (2F 55)was recorded in 2013 and was identified as having originated from Knutsford in Cheshire
Little Gull - Hydrocoloeus minima

A scarce spring and autumn passage micrant in the Midlands with occasional unseasonal records occuring after heavy weather during the winter. The first site record was on the evening of 05/04/2016 when a second callendar year specimen was found on Ryders Mere by Ray Fellows (subsequently seen by C.M. - K.C. J.A.S.). The following week a national influx of Little Gull resulted in no less than thirteen birds on Ryders Mere on the afternoon o 11/04/2016 (R.F. - A.J.S. - C.M.)

Mediterranean Gull - Larus melanocephalus

A species that is regularly recorded at Chasewater and which has probably dropped into the mere on a number of occasions. Credit for the first record however, goes to Kevin Clements who discovered an adult bird on the morning of 08/02/2008. Because of the frequency of this species in the local gull roosts it should be more regular on the Mere and is almost certainly being overlooked.

The second Record was not confirmed until 29/05/13 when Gareth Clements found one on the Mere early morning followed by a fly through by a second-summer bird on 10/06/2013. A pair of birds appeared and presented some breeding behaviour the following year but apparently moved on without nesting. In 2015 a second summer bird was present from April to June and was seen displaying to a Black Headed Gull and demonstrating nesting behaviour. It was joined by a first summer bird on 09/06/2015 and at the end of theyear, a winter plumage adult on the morning of 20/12/2015 was unexpected (C.M.). The first record of the following year was a first winter bird on 23/03/2016 (K.C.)
Common (Mew) Gull - Larus canus

This used to be a surprisingly rare species at either site but has increased in frequency since the mere was landscaped. I remember being frustrated that it had never been recorded and spent one Saturday afternoon in 1997 watching every gull that flew off the sewage farm until I was able to identify two first-winter birds.

These were to be my only records for several years until an adult bird put in appearance in January 2004. This or another bird then became a regular, occurring several times in the next two winters. In January 2006 I had my first multiple record (2 birds).

Adult and first-winter birds have occasionally been seen since but it is still a mystery to me why a bird that occasionally turned up at Chasewater in quite good numbers should only total 20+ records in ten years? Perhaps for many years the habitat was just not optimum for Common Gull ? This seemed to change from the mid-2000s with single and sometimes multiple records occurring on the Mere. still not common then, but at least now recorded annually?
Lesser Black-Backed Gull - Larus fuscus

This is a common and regular species locally, only absent for a few weeks in spring with non-breeding birds often being recorded in May. Birds belonging to the sub-species graelsii and intermedius are regularly seen. Numbers of Lesser Black-Backs on the Mere can often amount to several hundred birds, particularly at the mid-afternoon pre-roost.

Herring Gull - Larus argentatus

For most people this is the species they think of when they say 'Seagull' and it is another regular at both sites. Birds belonging to the races argentatus and argenteus are recorded but it is almost always outnumbered at both Clayhanger and Ryders Mere by Black-Backed Gulls.

Yellow-Legged Gull - Larus michahellis

I looked at hundreds of gulls at Ryders Mere before I actually found a Yellow-Legged Gull for the site list and when I did, it was appropriately on Christmas Eve 2006 and showed as the perfect present, sitting alongside Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls to give me perfect sight comparisons.

Since then I had seen another fourteen birds, during the period to December 2011. This species is certainly being picked up more frequently as a result of improved observer skills, but I believe that it really is becoming more frequent as originally I scrutinised many hundreds of gulls to find just those eight and as this species can now be seen in good numbers at Chasewater and Stubbers Green every year  it is another gull that is probably being overlooked?.

Graham Evans assures me that he has has several mid-summer birds and I can not dispute this as the disturbance of the area in July and August (when Yellow-Legged seem to be frequent) tends to depress me and I put less time in on my local patch.

Subsequent records of interest included a first winter on the 24/09/2015 (G.C.)
Azorean Gull - Larus michahelis atlantis

Several putative specimens of this Atlantic species were noted in the roost at Chasewater during the autumn and winter of 2011, possibly having arrived on a band of high pressure which came up from the Azores during early October? One bird was an obvious sub-adult while one pale headed adult was also noted. A subsequent dark headed adult was noted on two occasions at Stubbers Green in the early winter although this may have been the sub adult bird moulting through?

With Ryders Mere being on the flight path between Stubbers Green and Chasewater, it was almost inevitable that one of these birds would eventually appear on the Mere and it was Tony Stackhouse who had the first views of a probable specimen on 12/12/11. Five days later (17/12/11), the dark headed Adult-type bird (possibly the aforementioned Sub-adult) was seen to fly in from the south west during the Morning (C.M.)

Caspian Gull - Larus cachinans

Formerly the eastern species of Yellow Legged Gull, Caspian Gull was promoted to full species status in 2007. Specimens have showed well at Stubbers Green for a number of winters and several specimens have been recorded at Chasewater in most winters so it was only a matter of time before one of these birds puts in an appearance at Ryders Mere. The first confirmed record was a fourth year specimen that was present early afternoon on 28/11/2009 although it is likely that birds have previously gone unrecorded on a number of occasions.

This may actually have already occurred as a probable first-winter female bird with an extensive pale grey mantle was present on 17/12/2007 but as I was the only observer, I was not happy for this to go forward as such without corroboration. I was delighted however with a full adult specimen which posed for several minutes on Ryders Mere (11/02/12 - C.M. - K.S. - T.S.) almost certainly one of several birds that had been present at Stubbers Green in the previous few days. Caspian Gulls became an early feature of the Chasewater Roost in December 2013 and one possible adult was reported from Ryders Mere on 11/12/2013 (I.P.)
Glaucous Gull - Larus hyperboreus

White-Winged gulls are the speciality of Chasewater and it is inevitable that these Arctic breeding birds will eventually turn up at Clayhanger and Ryders Mere. There have however been three records (so far) of Glaucous Gull, the largest representative of this group.

I'm pleased to say that first-honours went to me with a huge adult bird amongst a group of gulls foraging on the fields at Grange Farm (18/01/1998). This bird eventually flew off toward Chasewater at 16:20 and despite deteriorating weather, was picked up in the roost by at least one birder.

The second record involved a first-winter bird found on one of the islands in the mere by Tony Stackhouse (27/01/2004), this also put in an appearance in the Chasewater Roost. Honours for the third record go to Pete Newman who tracked a first-winter bird seen at "Fishley Lane" to a pre-roost at Ryders Mere on 04/01/2008, and yes, this also roosted at Chasewater. A large pale first winter bird showed well on the frozen Mere on 03/03/2013 (C.M. - J.A.S.) before flying off toward Stubbers Green (it was keeping company with an Iceland Gull present on the same day and causing confusion). The same situation was to be repeated on 14/03/13 when another juvenile Glaucous Gull was present (G.C.)

Iceland Gull - Larus glaucoides
The other White-winged Gull that regularly overwinters locally at Chasewater and one that has probably gone under-recorded at the site.

The first formal record involved a second-winter specimen that flew through late afternoon toward Chasewater on 15/02/2008, while the same (or possibly the other 2nd Winter bird) was present early morning on 20/02/2008 (see photo) (K.C.). Almost exactly two years later (08/02/10) another Iceland gull was seen to fly through (I.P.). A pale eyed second winter bird was the next record (C.M. - J.A.S. - P.J. - J.K.G.A.) sharing the Mere with a first winter Glaucous Gull (both of which had been in the roost at Chasewater the previous evening). A juvenile Iceland again shared the Mere with a Glaucous Gull on 14/03/13 (G.C.).

Great Black-Backed Gull - Larus marinus

Surprisingly this, one of the most maritime of gulls, is not uncommon at Ryders Mere with good numbers of birds recorded throughout the winter period and non-breeding birds being recorded in spring (such as the 90 - 100 birds present on 05/05/2004).

Several regularly occurring species have yet to be recorded at either site, including Kittewake and Little Gull. There is also the possibility of something rarer being recorded at some future point so it is a site well worth watching for any aspiring gull watcher.
Tern species recorded

Black Tern - Chlidonias niger A long overdue species that was finally caught up with on the evening of 09/04/2011 when three perfect breeding plumage specimens performed on the Mere until at least 20.05 (R.F.-C.M.-H.K.). A single adult bird was present on 09/05/2016 (R.F. - J.A.S. - C.M. - K.C.) and another breeding plumage adult was present on 30/04/2017 (? - C.M. - K.C.). Later that spring a passage of Common Tern brought in another two Black Tern early afternoon on the 12th of May.(R.F.).
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
Until recently, Common Tern was an occasional visitor to the site from spring until autumn. This all changed in 2005 when successful breeding was confirmed locally.

The fact that terns now breed at Ryders Mere is common knowledge, particularly as the breeding pairs are very aggressive and regularly harass and dive bomb anyone walking around the mere. In the years since first breeding occurred, the number of local pairs returning and breeding success have increased until an average year will see in excess of 20 young being raised in the Ryders Mere colony. What the site needs now is a little protection, with local people asking their children to respect the breeding island from April until August so these birds can raise their chicks in peace. Unfortunately the island itself also requires management as it is increasingly being colonised by Black Headed Gulls quite early in the season, forcing the breeding Terns to nest on the fringes where they are more vulnerable. An exceptional early arrival was noted on 27/03/14 when a bird was seen flying over the High Bridges (J.J.H.) but it unfortunately did not linger. 
Arctic Tern - Sterna Paradisea
Probably annual on passage through the area but rarely seen. The first reliable record was one on 07/06/2008 (Ben Holmes) although a more obliging Adult specimen lingered long enough to be twitched on 07/09/2011 (I.P. - R.F. - C.M. - T.S. - S.H.). The following spring saw an Arctic Tern visiting the Marsh on 27/04/12 (R.F.) and an autumn juvenile performed well on the afternoon of 28/09/12, still being present the following day (C.M.-R.F.-J.A.S.).
The following May saw several records involving at least six to ten different birds on several days, demonstrating that this is actually quite a regular passage species (as expected). Five birds dropped in on the evening of 22/04/14 (K.C.). Two Adult Arctic Tern were next recorded when they dropped in at 20.15 on 20/04/2015 (C.M. - C.C.M. - S.L.) with another bird over flying the following morning (K.C.). There were no reports that I was aware of during the whole of 2016 and the first record for 2017 was an autumn Juvenile found on 13/09/2017 (J.A.S.) which remained until at least the 15th. Two Arctic Tern were recorded in Spring 2018, a single bird on the 19th of April (C.M.) and another on the 29th April (R.F.)